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  • Virginia M. Schwarz

The “Social Justice” Turn- a conversation

Meeting for a Thursday study session, Antonio Byrd and Virginia Schwarz began to talk about Jim Brown’s _Ethical Programs_ and class discussion he was kind enough to lead. Though both students enjoyed the book, Virginia began to wonder why there was no mention of gender or race. Virginia, unsure of this idea but wanting to talk it through with a friend, proposed to Antonio that all scholars in the field of composition should explicitly situate their work in terms of inclusion, equity and justice. This prompted a longer blog and email discussion, shared below with Antonio’s permission.


Antonio Byrd’s Blog Post Here


Virginia Schwarz:

Awesome! I’m still thinking about this. I think I have gotten in the habit of thinking in terms of justice, equity, inclusion, access because for so long it wasn't on my mind. So I realize how easy it is to NOT think about, especially as a person with white privilege. It’s easy to NOT do something, which is actually doing something. It's continuing a pattern. I’m still figuring out what roles to play and when, when to speak up and when to step back; I’m a person in process in a world in process and there are few stable answers. I screw up a lot and sometimes around people I care deeply about. But I do know we are in education, and I’d like to think that those choosing to educate others also educate themselves. Maybe I’ll stop short of calling the incorporation of “social justice” a responsibility (in terms of scholarship, mentorship, service, etc), but it sure is a f’ing missed opportunity. And it is sad. And there are consequences. You know what, I’m going to say it, too many scholars miss that opportunity. I’m not going to go snoop into people’s departments or search the projects they’re involved in. They might be doing awesome “justice-y” things in another venue, for sure.


My main concern here is with a system that produces scholars–scholars of writing, literacy, and education of all things–who collectively participate in silence. Justice and inclusivity should not be optional objectives to have or not have; they should be a crucial lens that helps scholars transform the spaces in which they live, inside the classroom, university and/or their communities. It’s a daily practice to “see” and then counter silence. And, again, acting is complicated. Speaking is complicated. And the positions people occupy further complicate. But this pattern of silence in our field worries me, particularly because of, as you point out, it’s history of control and exclusion. I wonder how many scholars consent to this system because their university education taught them not to see. I wonder what kind of scholars those scholars will produce. I wonder who I’d be without my community college education.


For me, it’s deeply personal. And I’m pissed this silence continues. It will take me the entire rest of my life to undo what my education did to me, what my *English* classes did to me. But as much as I want to hate them, they put me here, and that is complicated. Thanks for thinking these things through with me. Maybe I’ll post this response on my blog?


Antonio Byrd:

I love this response, and you totally should post it on your blog! Get a dialogue going! The thing is . . . I don’t think we in education educate ourselves. I mean, in some universities “higher education” is really “higher research” as in “I do research, I don’t teach unless I have to.” Graduate school is partly about reproducing the same faces and the same thoughts. But I think one problem with scholars who are against the pedagogical turn in particular, have a narrow definition of what pedagogy, teaching, and learning can look like. I love teaching and asking my students to educate me. I feel like I do the most good . . . the most immediate good when I teach and when I talk to my students. But I also know that my education comes just as much from outside the classroom. 


The spaces scholars study outside the classroom are classrooms. They are spaces of pedagogy. And the turn to pedagogy can address these unconventional areas as classrooms. When you do make the pedagogical turn about learning outside the classroom, you ask your readers to reorient themselves. We know how we behave as teachers and students in the classroom, but how do we behave when we’re not in the classroom? What do we call ourselves when we make a pedagogical turn in terms of working with software and programming language in the way Jim Brown describes in his book, for example? Hmm. I kinda like this idea. If it makes sense to you anyway . . .


Virginia Schwarz:

That’s a good point, we don’t educate ourselves. And I agree, I do think students and our environment educate us. I guess I just meant to emphasize that a scholar– particularly white, male, middle/upper-class, heterosexual, cis, able-bodied, US citizen–can theoretically walk through these spaces and either refuse to be educated or not notice the need to become educated. Living in stratified society requires some counter-socializing, and that’s (at least in my mind) personal work and ongoing personal effort, too. We’re taught not to see. I *LOVE* your translation of pedagogy!!!



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